The census figures from 1981 and 1991 indicate that the low level of literacy was even lower among females than males in Bangladesh's basically patriarchal society. With a strong Moslem influence, women have been traditionally passive and largely excluded from the schools and colleges in Bangladesh. The gender gap in education was even wider in the villages in the vastly rural population; these gaps have been shrinking gradually due to the influx of urban-industrial areas and the impact of mass media (newspaper, radio, television, and, recently, computers).
Since the liberation war in 1971, Bangladesh, as an independent and secular state, has been allowing many forms of educational institutions, various modes of instruction, and different languages as mediums of instruction to co-exist. Students are free to choose from three types of schools: English medium, Bangla medium, and religious schools. English medium schools and universities tend to be privately governed, tend to serve the needs of the wealthy and political elite, and tend to have a shortage of textbooks and adequately trained teachers in these schools; their exams in English were sent to England or to the British Council in Dhaka. Bangla medium schools are government-sponsored and are free, or less expensive, than their English-medium counterparts and are divided into 4 levels—primary from grades 1 to 5; secondary from grades 6 to 10; higher secondary for grades 11 to 12; and colleges, universities, and vocational institutes. Religious schools or Madrashas have millions of children, including many who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (including the homeless), who have been sheltered, fed, and taught the ways of Islam by the Moslem priests meeting inside the mosques and studying the religious text, the Koran, in Arabic script and the Urdu language. The Madrasha graduates have been assuming the role of future teachers in the mosque-affiliated schools. Since 1985 these schools, which are traditional hallmarks of Bangladesh, have been going through innovations and modernizations. Some have been introducing secular, non-religious subjects in scientific and technological fields, and some have been attracting female students. These institutions, financed by public donations and serving the needs of vast populations, are likely to thrive through non-sectarian and nonsexist reforms. During 1997-1998, a generous amount of 2 billion takas (50 takas equals US$1.00) was sanctioned by the government in order to educate more female students, to improve educational facilities, and to incorporate modern scientific curriculum within these traditionally defined schools.
Education Planning & Policies: During the last 20 years, education in Bangladesh has been gradually changing from its previous class-based system to the current mass-based system. Since 1971, the Ministry of Education and Culture has been responsible for planning, financing, and managing education at all levels. In 1972 a special Education Commission was appointed to investigate and report on all major aspects of education in Bangladesh. In 1987, another high-level Education Commission was instituted; it recommended a national policy for compulsory free education for all children, reforms in Madrashas, and the growth of scientific, medical, and technical education. The Commission's recommendations were incorporated in the fourth and fifth five-year plans covering the period up to the year 2002.
The 2001 female-headed government of Bangladesh has been emphasizing education for women who have traditionally kept away from schools. This objective is to be achieved by training additional female teachers, establishing women's colleges, and offering special scholarships. A recent government report in 1999 mentions that 7000 female teachers were being appointed. Between 1997 and 2002, 18 non-government women's colleges, as well as three polytechnic institutes, were established.
Bangladesh has been actively participating in various international organizations such as UNESCO and has declared a target of "Education for All." The government hopes to remove illiteracy from the country by the year 2005. The latest available figures indicate overall literacy went from 47 percent to 56 percent from 1997 to 2001. Various governmental and nongovernmental plans are being developed to spread formal, nonformal, general, and specialized education, with the help of international agencies and increases in the present budget plan.
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